Magnesium Turned Into Supermetal
UCLA led scientists have transformed magnesium into one of the strongest metals by successfully infusing it with ceramic nanoparticles
When you think of load-bearing or structural metals (assuming you do at all) you probably think of aluminum and titanium which are both lightweight and strong and therefore ideal for this task. Not many people are aware that Magnesium is one as well which kinda makes it the red-headed step-child of structural metals. It’s two-thirds the density of aluminum and quite strong itself making it the lightest of all structural metals. You even may find some in various critical components of your car. It’s not the strongest or stiffest however … until now perhaps.
UCLA led researchers have found a way to infuse magnesium with something special called Silicon Carbide (SiC). If I had to describe this compound of silicon and carbon in one word I’d say it’s ToughAsFuck. By sintering grains of this material together it forms a ceramic hard enough handle roles as demanding as disk brakes for cars, ultra-hard cutting blades, and even the plates used in bulletproof vests.
You would think that adding Silicon Carbide to metal would be a marriage made in heaven and materials scientists would agree with you wholeheartedly. The problem is, they could never get the particles to disperse evenly. The ceramic nano-particles would always aggregate into quasi clusters, attracted by van der Waals forces. The metal strengthening experiments therefore failed time and time again.
This time though researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, like lead author is Lian-Yi Chen, figured a way around this quasi clustering conundrum. By adding the particles to a molten alloy of magnesium and zinc, the particles were able to disperse evenly. As the researchers state in their abstract:
“While the attractive van der Waals potential tries to hold the SiC nanoparticles together into quasi-clusters, the high thermal energy allows the nanoparticles to break free from their attraction, resulting in dispersed nanoparticles in the melt.”
The result is more properly called a nano composite. It needs a cool name like that because when they tested it, it blew their science socks off. The material broke records in the following key measures:
- Specific Modulus (Specific Stiffness): This is the ratio of stiffness to weight.
- Specific Strength: This measures how much weight a material can tolerate before breaking
On top of both of those very high scores, the composite also show Superior stability at high temperatures.
This process isn’t a way to turn just magnesium into a super-metal. This new process can be potentially used with other metals as well. Regarding this, the paper’s principal investigator, said Xiaochun Li said:
“The results we obtained so far are just scratching the surface of the hidden treasure for a new class of metals with revolutionary properties and functionalities,”
Applications are pretty much a no-brainer…anything where strength and weight are key. If you haven’t had your coffee yet I’ll jot down a list for you:
- Mobile Electronics
So look out for more nano composites in your future. And remember…it all started with that obscure structural metal with red hair.
Image Credit: UCLA Scifacturing Laboratory